The IFTF Blog
Using Technology to Manage Addiction to Technology
File this under the category of things that probably shouldn't be medical problems: Computer Eyes. What are computer eyes? They're what happens when you spend so much time staring and working at digital screens that you strain your eyes. At least in Japan, this is apparently enough of a problem that the consumer electronics company Panasonic is releasing an eye rejuvenating system this September that is designed to treat eye strain related to computer use.
It's a product that seems like both an entirely reasonable business idea, as well as a disturbing signal of the health and social impacts that stem from technology use.
In a great piece at Wired UK, Ben Hammersley frames the challenge as, in effect, a social one. We're all so used to being in contact with each other, that the emotional costs of ignoring email and phone calls is so high that it's easier to simply be connected.
Airplane mode is shouting at me. I've had enough. This can't go on any more. I need to turn my phone back on. There is, you see, nothing noisier than a phone that's turned off. Because you are aware, and nervous, that when you turn it back on again you'll be confronted with a backlog of messages and voicemails. We now talk about information overload and the tyranny of being always connected, devices in pockets, and false feelings of vibrations making you grab at your phone at random moments. The constant battle to not keep checking your inbox.
But perhaps it's not actually the technology that is the problem, but the social arrangements you have with the people you talk to. If by habit or design your correspondents have grown to expect you to have your phone on all the time, it can become oppressively difficult to disconnect without risking a social backlash, or even outright suspicion. These social norms, that people expect a reply to a text almost immediately and an email as soon as possible, have seemingly never been negotiated or at least discussed out loud. They have simply evolved unspoken. However, when you do have this conversation, it can have miraculous effects.
As part of his argument, Hammersley cites a recent, if small study from UC Irvine which forced 13 office workers to not use email for an entire week and monitored the effects. Among other things, the employees who didn't use email were more productive, more capable of focusing, and less stressed out.
Of course, it would be silly to argue that we either could, or would want to stop using email and other technology. But it highlights something a little more subtle--we developed these technologies to make us more productive, to make it easier to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and they've gradually, and somewhat inadvertently, become increasingly burdensome.
Which brings me back to the absurdity of Panasonic's new eye mask -- it is, in effect, a technological innovation aimed at reducing the health impacts of dealing with other technological innovations, which themselves, cause health problems in the form of stress.
Nothing about that makes sense.
And so while it seems to me that the Panasonic product could do well, I'm guessing it won't do well in the long-run. Rather, I think the long-run opportunity will be to give people better tools, both technological as well as social, to manage connectivity, so that we aren't so afraid of disconnecting that it harms our health.